The “most winningest” team in football

Rob Boudreau
July 30, 2009

It is one thing to say that with 12 championships the Green Bay Packers have the most victories in football, but it’s another thing entirely to call them the most dominant team of the modern Super Bowl era – especially since they’ve only won one championship since 1967.

The National Football League is unique among the four major sports because they are willing to recognize the success of franchises in leagues prior to joining the NFL. This was evident back in the 1960s when the NFL actually challenged champions from other leagues. It’s a confusing concept but one that answers the question of how there can be 95 unique champions while the league has only existed since 1920.

The cloudy area with American football is the periods between 1960 and 1969, when the short-lived American Football League began and crowned its own champions. The amount of changes in the decade is astounding as the leagues competed for supremacy. In 1966, the two leagues pitted their respective champions in the AFL-NFL World Championship games (also known as the original Super Bowls). Although the AFL and the NFL were separate entities before they merged prior to the 1970 season, the team that won the Super Bowl was not additionally recognized with a league win as well. The team that lost, however, was.

As of 1970, the National Football League as we know it today began hosting the legendary Super Bowls as the one officially recognized championship. Since then, there have been 43 Super Bowl champions, and a vast 17 different victors.

Among the 32 teams in the NFL, eight have won at least one AFL or NFL championship but no Super Bowl, nine have won at least one Super Bowl but no prior championships, eight have won at least one of each, and seven have won neither.

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The team with the most Super Bowl wins is the current champion Pittsburgh Steelers. They won their sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy last February, to go along with others from 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979 and 2005. However, after being established in 1933, it took until 1974 to get that first win, giving them a meager 7.89 Championship Win Percentage (CWP). Pittsburgh is the only franchise to have repeated on more than one occasion while in history there have been only eight repeat winners. This fact alone is enough to convince some that the NFL is the hardest league in which to find a dynasty.

A team in a similar boat that may be seen as a modern dynasty to some is the New England Patriots who have been to four of the last eight Super Bowls and won three of them. All four games were decided by exactly three points. It’s not outlandish to say that Pats have been the most successful franchise of the new millennium, but their three Super Bowls are also the only three league championships that New England has taken since its inception in 1959 (6.00 CWP).

As mentioned before, the Green Bay Packers have the most overall league championships in history with 12 (nine NFL, three Super Bowl), but they only have one since 1967. They were the proud winners of the first two Super Bowls, but had to wait until Super Bowl XXXI where star QBs Brett Favre and Drew Bledsoe matched up in a wild one that was clinched by a 99-yard kickoff return by Desmond Howard. So while their CWP is at a league-best 13.33, they can hardly be considered the “most winningest” during the Super Bowl era.

Among those others without a Super Bowl victory are the Cleveland Browns, who managed eight league championships as a part of the short-lived All-America Football Conference. The league lasted just four seasons and the Browns were victorious in all four campaigns before the league and three of its teams were absorbed into the NFL (along with the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Colts). The Browns made an immediate impact by appearing in six straight NFL championships, winning in 1950, then losing the next three by 10 points or less in each, and winning again in 1954 and 1955. In 1964, the Browns won their eighth and last NFL championship.

On the opposite side, the Buffalo Bills may be one of the most unlucky teams in football. With an owner older than the original NFL (Ralph Wilson), the troubles of the Bills are well documented. In the same year that the Browns shut out the Colts in the NFL championship, the Bills beat the Chargers 20-7 for their first title. One year later, the Bills won the AFL, beating the Chargers again, 23-0. Also like the Browns, the Bills haven’t won another championship since, despite having more than ample opportunity. Led by Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, the Bills went to four straight Super Bowls between 1990 and 1993 and lost them all. They and the Minnesota Vikings are the only two teams in football history to have been to four Super Bowls and never won any.

Though the NFL has been around since 1920, only 11 of the current 32 teams were around before 1953. Sure, there are several great success stories to be told, but thanks to the NFL’s unique salary cap system, the parity among the league makes it difficult for any few to dominate.

The trend of relative equality is exclusive to football. Come back next week as we break down the league that just may be the exact oppositeof the NFL, the National Basketball Association.

The table below is accurate as of Feb. 6, 2011. The article itself is only accurate of its publication date. -TheGP

Team EST. Years Wins CWP
Green Bay Packers 1919 92 13 14.13
Cleveland Browns 1946 65 8 12.31
Dallas Cowboys 1960 51 5 9.80
Chicago Bears 1919 92 9 9.78
Indianapolis Colts 1953 58 5 8.62
New York Giants 1925 86 7 8.14
Pittsburgh Steelers 1933 78 6 7.69
San Francisco 49ers 1946 65 5 7.69
Baltimore Ravens 1996 15 1 6.67
Washington Redskins 1932 79 5 6.33
Oakland Raiders 1960 51 3 5.88
New England Patriots 1959 52 3 5.77
Detroit Lions 1929 82 4 4.88
Miami Dolphins 1966 45 2 4.44
St. Louis Rams 1936 75 3 4.00
Denver Broncos 1960 51 2 3.92
Kansas City Chiefs 1960 51 2 3.92
Tennessee Titans 1960 51 2 3.92
Buffalo Bills 1959 52 2 3.85
Philadelphia Eagles 1933 78 3 3.85
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1976 35 1 2.86
New Orleans Saints 1967 44 1 2.27
Minnesota Vikings 1961 50 1 2.00
New York Jets 1960 51 1 1.96
San Diego Chargers 1960 51 1 1.96
Arizona Cardinals 1898 113 2 1.77
Atlanta Falcons 1966 45 0 0.00
Carolina Panthers 1995 16 0 0.00
Cincinnati Bengals 1968 43 0 0.00
Houston Texans 2002 9 0 0.00
Jacksonville Jaguars 1995 16 0 0.00
Seattle Seahawks 1976 35 0 0.00

(July 23) – The “most winningest” team in hockey

(August 6) – The “most winningest” team in basketball

(August 13) – The “most winningest” team in baseball

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The Author:

Rob Boudreau